Well, it’s time once again to get rid of some movies on my DVR so I can make room for more movies! Last night I had myself a mini-movie marathon watching four in a row (the fifth I’d already screened and jotted down some notes on it). So here, for your education and edification, are five films from five decades:
THE RETURN OF DR. X (Warner Brothers 1939; director Vincent Sherman)
Despite the title, this is not a sequel to 1932’s DOCTOR X starring Lionel Atwill. This one’s all about a reporter (Wayne Morris) and a doctor (Dennis Morgan) investigating a string of murders where the bodies have been drained of blood. Humphrey Bogart plays Dr. Quesne, alias the mad Dr. X, in pasty white make-up and a streak of white in his hair. Seems he’s been brought back from the dead by Dr. Flegg (John Litel) after being electrocuted and now needs human blood to survive. It’s no wonder Bogie hated this film, playing a role more suitable for Bela Lugosi in his Monogram days. Fun Fact: Dead End Kid/Bowery Boy Huntz Hall plays newsroom boy Pinky in a rare solo appearance.
RIDE EM COWBOY (Universal 1942; director Arthur Lubin)
Abbott & Costello don’t get much love these days, but I still find them funny. RIDE EM COWBOY was made when the boys were at their box-office peak, and has them playing two peanut vendors who wind up on a dude ranch out west. There’s a love triangle between three Universal stalwarts (Dick Foran, Anne Gwynne, and Johnny Mack Brown), Lou running afoul of some Indians, and some crooked gamblers try to rig the rodeo. The great Ella Fitzgerald sings “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” and The Merry Macs adds some swing-era tunes, but the movie’s basically an excuse for A&C to perform their dazzling wordplay and slapstick shenanigans. This one’s definitely worth watching! Fun Fact: Lou’s dream he’s in a sanitarium is based on the classic old burlesque skit ‘Crazy House’.
SANTA FE (Columbia 1951; director Irving Pichel)
Typical Randolph Scott oater finds our hero playing one of four ex-Confederate brothers who goes to work for the railroad, while his siblings become outlaws. I’d never seen this one before, but watching it felt as comfortable as an old pair of slippers. The cast is familiar too, including Olin Howland in one of his patented comic supporting roles. Director Pichel, who once played servant Sandor in the 1936 DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, was blacklisted shortly after making this movie. Fun Fact: love interest Janis Carter made her last appearance in Russ Meyer’s nudie-cutie WILD GALS OF THE NAKED WEST (1962).
THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE (Amicus 1967; director Freddie Francis)
This plays like a mash-up of science fiction and spy movies, revolving around meteors from the moon (!) carrying life-forms that take over human bodies, an astronomer (Robert Hutton of INVISIBLE INVADERS filling the James Bond role) who’s immune because of a silver plate in his head, a “crimson plague” causing world-wide devastation, and horror star Michael Gough as The Master of The Moon! It’s as bad as it sounds. Director Francis has done much, much better. Fun Fact: There’s a psychedelic strobe effect every time Hutton or someone else loses consciousness. Only God knows why.
THE CHICKEN CHRONICLES (Avco Embassy 1977; director Francis Simon)
Small coming-of-age comedy with Steve Guttenberg (THREE MEN AND A BABY) in his first starring role. He plays Dave Kessler, a Beverly Hills High track star in 1969 trying to lose his virginity before graduating high school. There’s lots of pot smoking and references to Vietnam and the draft, and all in all it’s not a bad flick. Phil Silvers does his schtick as the owner of Chicken On The Run. The soundtrack is full of period tunes by Canned Heat, Classics IV, Jackie DeShannon, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Fun Fact: Another Russ Meyer star, Raven De La Croix of UP!, appears as Mrs. Worth.
And there you have it, another edition of CLEANING OUT THE DVR. I’ll leave you with Miss Ella singing her hit “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”. Happy viewing!